Changes to California Employer Safety and Health Regulations

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On October 9, 2021, Governor Newsom completed his review of the 836 bills passed to him by the Legislature and signed 770 of them. Within the many new California bills that were recently signed into law, two amend the Golden State’s workplace safety laws. First, Assembly Bill (AB) 654 creates important modifications to an employer’s COVID-19 exposure notice and reporting obligations. Second, Senate Bill (SB) 606 establishes new classes of health and safety violations and enhances liability. Both are discussed below.

Assembly Bill (AB) 654

On October 5, 2021, California AB 654 became effective. AB 654 focuses on COVID-19 outbreak reporting. Some highlights include:

  • Outbreak reporting timeline is now one business day or 48 hours, whichever is later.
  • For the purposes of exposure notifications, the meaning of “worksite” has been clarified. The new definition specifically excludes remote working. Moreover, in a multi-worksite setting, the employer need only inform employees present at the same worksite as the qualifying individual.
  • Mandatory notification to all employees who were present and near the qualifying individual within the virus’s infectious period.
  • “Qualifying Individual” means a lab-confirmed case of COVID-19; positive COVID-19 diagnosis; a COVID-19-related order to isolate; or death due to COVID-19.

Senate Bill (SB) 606

On January 1, 2022, SB 606 becomes effective. It establishes two new classifications of Cal/OSHA violations: “enterprise-wide” and “egregious”. SB 606 also beefs up Cal/OSHA compliance tools (subpoenas, injunctions, and temporary restraining orders), and could expose employers to high civil penalties.

Notable provisions include:

  • SB 606 establishes a rebuttable presumption that an employer with multiple worksites has committed an “enterprise-wide” violation at all the employer’s locations in the state if Cal/OSHA determines that either of the following “is true”:
    • The employer has a written policy or procedure that violates certain statutes and regulations.
    • Cal/OSHA “has evidence of a pattern or practice of the same violation or violations committed by that employer involving more than one of the employer’s worksites.

The law sets the maximum penalty for an enterprise-wide violation at $123,709.00.

  • “Egregious violation” is defined as a willful violation, where one or more of the following is true about the employer:
    • The employer made no reasonable effort to eliminate the known violation.
    • The violations resulted in worker fatalities, a worksite catastrophe, or a large number of injuries or illnesses.
    • The violations resulted in persistently high rates of worker injuries or illnesses.
    • The employer has an extensive history of prior violations.
    • The employer has intentionally disregarded their health and safety responsibilities.
    • The employer’s conduct, taken as a whole, amounts to clear bad faith in the performance of their duties to provide occupational safety to their employees.
    • The employer has committed a large number of violations so as to undermine the effectiveness of any safety and health program that might be in place.
  • Cal-OSHA will also have the authority to issue and enforce a subpoena if an employer or related entity fails to swiftly deliver the requested information.

AB 654 and SB 606 are only two of the 770 bills that Governor Newsom signed; there are other new employment-related laws that will go into effect at the start of the new year. Please feel free to contact us for additional information.